Seeing a stranger across a crowded room and being stunned by the force of the knowledge that you are in love may strike many people as a romantic and unrealistic dream, but it can and does happen.
People tend to divide into two camps. There are those who believe love at first sight happens and that it is the only true love.
The other group believes that falling in love at first sight is a romantic novelist’s fantasy, and something that cannot happen in real life. As usual, the truth lies somewhere between the two.
What actually happens?
The people who believe that love at first sight is impossible argue that you cannot tell very much about someone at first glimpse, or first meeting. But this is not completely true.
Ten minutes in the company of someone they have never met before is usually enough to give some people a fairly solid, realistic impression of the kind of person he or she is in reality.
Much of your observation is subliminal. Without consciously assessing the other person you are receiving an enormous amount of raw information.
Your past experiences of people and of life help you process the information into something approaching a true picture of what the other person is like.
The purely visual clues tell you much of what you need to know – sex, age, degree of attractiveness, style of dress, financial status. One glance lets you know whether this is the kind of person who is going to appeal to you.
Further examination – still at a distance – gives you other clues. Facial expression and body language tell you very pertinent things about shyness, sexiness, sense of humour and degree of confidence.
Just a few minutes’ conversation will give you additional important information about possible compatibility in the areas of intelligence, education, class and – also essential – how the other person seems to be responding to you.
A sense that you are not even consciously aware of is also responding, positively or not, to the pheromones emitted by this almost perfect stranger.
All in all, you are learning more than enough at first sight to find yourself bowled over by the impact of love if all the elements are right.
Rhona and Bob
Rhona said that she had never believed in love at first sight until she met Bob at a day-release course in office management. ‘Bob was giving a morning lecture on personnel, and when he walked in I felt literally dazed. He is good-looking – but I’ve seen and met many good-looking men in my life. I literally thought, “This is it!”
‘I could hardly make notes of what he was saying, because my hand was trembling. Whenever he glanced in my direction I felt a physical shock.
‘Afterwards I longed to go up to him and ask questions, as many of the others were doing, but I was too nervous.
‘I know this sounds stupid, but I couldn’t sleep that night. I was thinking, “I’ve seen my ideal man, and I’ve just thrown away the opportunity of getting to know him.” So the next day I wrote him a letter saying that there were a few important points about the course that I wanted to follow up, and could we meet to talk about them.
‘The midday meeting that we arranged developed into lunch, and he invited me for dinner the next night. That was two years ago and we’ve been together ever since.’
Falling in love has to do with being able to recognise your ‘type’ when you meet him or her. Some people are not consciously aware of what their type is.
Saul, whenever asked to describe the sort of person he was compatible with, always said he liked vivacious and outgoing blonde women best. In fact, the women he invariably found himself being attracted to were quiet and shy – and not necessarily blonde.
What really determines your type may have very little to do with aesthetic preference, and far more to do with factors which you are hardly even aware existed, let alone influenced you.
Your type is a composite picture which is built up from the moment you are born. It includes aspects of your parents, your friends, how you see yourself, your first crush, people you have admired, and people who have stirred some strong emotion which has affected you.
No one can properly analyse what goes to make up our ideal type, because the process is not conscious and many factors are deeply buried in a fascinating mixture of reality and fantasy.
But when the person with exactly the right combination appears, your subconscious and your body react, sometimes instantaneously and often without you understanding quite what has happened to you.
This dramatic recognition can happen to anyone at any time, and it can be enormously overpowering emotionally.
A difference in response
It can even happen to those who do not believe in love at first sight. The main difference in response is that people who say that love at first sight is impossible will not classify the surge of emotion that they experience as love. Unromantic people could find themselves completely overwhelmed by the power of this experience but, while recognising its strength, to them love is something quite different.
There is a certain kind of person who is more prone to falling in love at first sight. He or she is a romantic, and ardently believes in instant love.
Because of this he or she is more likely to be looking for this experience and expecting it to happen – and may want to hope that even a weak response is the ‘real thing’.
Phil says he never goes out with a girl unless he has fallen in love with her at first sight. ‘I find it’s a relatively common occurrence. Usually I just know when something is right.
‘I get a real thrill when I meet the right girl – sometimes it is very strong and rather disconcerting, sometimes it is just an exciting shiver, a promise of something to come. But it always sends my head spinning, sets my heart beating, and the adrenaline flowing. It’s that wonderful exhilaration of knowing that I have fallen in love once again.’
Reality or illusion
The point on which the believers are never likely to agree is whether love at first sight is ‘true’ love.
If the proof is the enduring quality of the love, then there are many examples that show that love at first sight can lead to a happy-ever-after marriage – but equally there are instant attractions that fizzle out dismally.
If love at first sight does not stand the test of time, does it mean that it was not love in the first place? People who have felt its dynamic impact are likely to insist that it was love, regardless of how long the relationship lasted. As Cleo says, ‘I have never felt so strongly about anyone before or since – even the man I am married to now – as I did in that brief relationship that started with love at first sight in the pub. It was completely hopeless for so many reasons, but don’t tell me it wasn’t love.’
Romantic – or erotic?
According to one argument, love at first sight is simply strong sexual attraction. This may be so in some cases, but it is certainly not the only explanation.
But sometimes the sexual element is weak or non-existent – or at least less obvious to you than other factors, such as personality, or spiritual, mental and aesthetic qualities.
Can it last?
Sometimes love at first sight endures, and sometimes it does not. It is no less likely to succeed than a relationship begun on any other basis. When you are attracted to someone you are already in the adaptable mode, ready to find things about the other person delightful, and to minimize differences.
Whether the love lasts is determined by how closely the essential person resembles that first image that struck you at your first meeting. Only time will tell. When you get to know each other better, love at first sight – or infatuation – can turn into something that everyone recognises as lasting love